, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 421-427

Effects of parasites on foraging and defense behavior of a termitophagous ant, Pheidole titanis Wheeler (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

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Pheidole titanis Wheeler, an ant that occurs in desert and deciduous thorn forest in the southwestern United States and western Mexico, is a predator on termites. In the dry season well-coordinated raids against termite foraging parties occur early in the morning or late in the afternoon, whereas in the wet season most raids occur at night. This seasonal shift in the timing of raids is due to the increased activity of a fly (Diptera: Phoridae) that is a specialist parasitoid on P. titanis workers and soldiers. When parasitic flies discover P. titanis nest entrances or raiding columns, workers stop foraging and defend themselves against oviposition attacks. Flies are only active during the day and never interfere with foraging at night. However, P. titanis does not increase the frequency of raids at night and, as a result, colonies collect less food in the wet season compared to the dry season. Presence of parasitic flies also interferes with normal defense behavior of P. titanis against conspecific and heterospecific enemy ants. Dissections of P. titanis workers and soldiers suggest that the parasitism rate by flies is less than 2% and observations indicate that parasitic flies are much rarer than their host workers and soldiers. Nonetheless, these parasites exert a strong ecological impact on their host.